Senate Panel to Markup Primary Care Bill

July 19, 2023 by Dan McCue
Senate Panel to Markup Primary Care Bill
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

WASHINGTON — The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will convene next week to markup a new health care bill that would invest $20 billion over the next five years in community health centers and the recruitment and retention of doctors, nurses and dentists.

The committee meeting is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 26.

The bill, the Primary Care and Health Workforce Expansion Act, was introduced Wednesday by committee chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Among other things, it would invest a total of $65.5 billion in community health centers across the nation, including funding for capital projects that keep health centers open for expanded hours, the expansion of the creation of school-based health initiatives, and, in theory, reduce avoidable emergency room visits. 

The bulk of the funding, however, would go toward the recruitment, training and retention of tens of thousands of primary care doctors, mental health providers, nurses, dentists and home health care workers. 

In addition the bill would require all health centers receiving the funding to provide mental health, substance use disorder and dental health care services. 

“As every American knows, our country faces a major crisis in primary care and a massive shortage of doctors, nurses, mental health professionals and dentists,” Sanders said in a written statement.

“Tens of millions of Americans live in communities where they cannot find a doctor while others have to wait months to be seen. At the end of the day, this crisis not only increases human suffering and unnecessary deaths, but wastes tens of billions a year as Americans flock to expensive ER rooms or hospitals because they could not access the primary care they need,” he continued, adding he believes the Senate HELP Committee is in a unique position to address these long-standing issues.

Sanders said the cost of the bill would be paid for by “cutting a fraction of the enormous waste and abuse” in the national health care system and by reducing the cost of prescription drugs, but he did not go into further detail in a press release announcing the introduction of the bill.

“Every major medical organization agrees that our investment in primary health care is woefully inadequate as we invest less than half of what other major countries spend on primary health care. They understand that investing in disease prevention and providing Americans with a medical home will not only save lives, it will save money,” the senator said. “I look forward to working with all of my colleagues on the HELP Committee to pass a bipartisan primary care bill on July 26th.”

So far, none of the Republicans on the committee have commented on Sanders’ proposal.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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